Nina Bawden: At last, an apology. But no mention of the loved ones we lost

MY WEEK
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The Independent Online

The novelist, whose husband was killed in the Potters Bar rail crash two years ago, describes the week in which the rail companies admit liability and apologise

The novelist, whose husband was killed in the Potters Bar rail crash two years ago, describes the week in which the rail companies admit liability and apologise

Monday. Ten o'clock. Two nice young men and a delightful girl from Phoenix Television (Chinese news and entertainment) come to interview me about the Potters Bar catastrophe. My vitriolic views on the character and competence of the railway industry and the Government will be broadcast to the whole of China. Arrival at lunch time of my old friend Annie who, after 20 years of retirement in Greece, has decided to relocate to Australia, where she was born. She spent her working life in London, where she ran the Merchant Navy programme for the BBC World Service and so, inevitably, is known as Tugboat Annie. A merry evening at the Aquilina Bar in Camden Passage.

Tuesday. Breaking news. Call from sister-in-law. Their post has come early, bringing a letter from Network Rail to say that they and Jarvis are - at last! - admitting liability for the derailment of the train in which my husband, Austen Kark, was killed. We had been told an announcement was expected, but not what it was. Jubilation slightly muted by the weasel words in which the admission is couched, trying to suggest that although they are liable and sorry, they are not really to blame. With Tugboat Annie await the usual telephone calls from the media. Louise Christian, our marvellous, battling solicitor, is enraged that her clients were informed before her but takes the brunt of these calls. Since I have invited some eminent retired BBC pundits for the evening, I turn down requests for interviews but am door-stepped by Sky News before I can even comb my hair. Luckily, calls stop by dinner time, and the Bush House reunion with Tugboat Annie is moderately tranquil.

Wednesday. All the morning newspapers carry the story. Rush out to buy them. While the railways and the Government ignored the bereaved and injured of Potters Bar, the support of the media has been a huge comfort and encouragement throughout the long months since the accident. Spend most of the day catching items on radio and television. More telephone calls. Both Tugboat and I siesta for an hour and wake fresh for another BBC dinner, this time at the Oriental Club in Stratford Place, the prettiest house in London.

Thursday. Annie leaves for her next visit to her past. The post arrives, bearing a letter from Jarvis. A fairly fulsome apology for the "hurt and anger" we have suffered, though no mention made of seven dead and 70 injured due to their lousy maintenance of the railway track, or for their initial peddling of false tales of "sabotage". Visit to the physiotherapist, who attempts to deal with what I think of as "my old war wounds"; the damage done to my skeleton during the crash. Walk out of his office a little more upright and return home to daughter, Perdita, who has found a strange, dusty safe behind some dusty volumes in the bookshelf. Happy evening at a neighbouring friend's birthday party.

Friday. A call from Phoenix Television to say the programme it made on Monday has gone out to China, but that most of the sequence that involved me was to do with the injuries I have suffered; the thrust of the programme being about the plight of one of its anchor women, who had been on the train and was pronounced brain-dead in London. After months in hospital in Beijing, she is walking and talking - but only a little. She has heard nothing from Network Rail or Jarvis: no apology, no compensation. Spend the rest of the day trying to get on with my book about the accident, which I am writing in the form of a letter to Austen. Another birthday supper - this time at Lola's in Camden Passage.

Saturday. Pack small bag to go to Bath for the weekend. Go through - though not, alas, deal with - the post. Take steak out of the freezer for old friend, playwright Steve Wakelam, who is to keep me company this evening. Since the accident I am afraid to be alone in the house at night. Hear from daughter that none of her criminal associates can open the safe. Afternoon: to the theatre with daughter and granddaughter. A lovely production of All's Well That Ends Well. As good a way to end the week as any.

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